Judge Ryan Keefer jumped on the couch in celebration after seeing and listening to this film in high definition.
"I'm part of an agency…called the IMF."
Wacky behavior or not, Mission: Impossible: III signals the end of an era for Tom Cruise, as he's released his last film for Paramount studios for awhile, and at last check, the much-parodied action film star was last seen canoodling with NFL owner Daniel Snyder at a football game. But before he retires to the countryside, the final part of the trilogy was unveiled over the summer of 2006. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias), how does this one stack up to others, as well as being on high definition?
Facts of the Case
When Ethan Hunt (Cruise) was last seen in M:I-2, he and Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton, Crash) were walking away deep into a park in Sydney, Australia. Now, he's engaged to Julia (Michelle Monaghan, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), who works as a nurse at a Virginia hospital, while Ethan works at the Department of Transportation (nudge nudge, wink wink). His handler, named Musgrave, (Billy Crudup, Almost Famous) tells him that one of the agents Ethan trained has been kidnapped, and he asks Ethan if he'd be interested in getting the proverbial band back together again. (Luther (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction) returns, but he is now working with Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Match Point) and Zhen Lei (Maggie Q, Around the World in 80 Days) so that they can rescue Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell, We Were Soldiers).
So who's the bad guy in the film? Enter Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote), a mean heartless dude who is attempting to acquire something called "The Rabbit's Foot," a biohazardous chemical that is your typical doomsday device, and has eerie overtones to Abrams' fictional Rambaldi fixation that Jennifer Garner followed for five seasons on Alias. Davian thinks that Ethan has it, and will do whatever he can to disrupt Ethan's life so he can get it. So there's the premise, does Tom save the day?
Mission: Impossible: III is a film that for Abrams and co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci is right in their wheelhouse. While it would have been easy to go into the film with a fairly solid 90-120 minutes full of stunts, Cruise smirking and running while he runs around a lot and saves the girl, Abrams and company get him tied down with Julia (and Monaghan is great in the role), and you're put into that investment right away. The first five minutes do something that Ethan wasn't used to in two other films; he's put into a position of weakness where you really don't know what happens. And besides, Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci have got the formula down when it comes to spies hiding their true lives from friends and family, right?
As for Cruise, well, he's more emotionally involved than he was in the other films, but clearly the fun performance to watch is Hoffman's. His selection as the villain certainly raised a couple of eyebrows, because it would appear to be something out of Hoffman's relative expertise, but he doesn't portray Davian with a bad-ass visage who ironically has one fatal flaw. Instead, Hoffman takes the villain role to fairly unprecedented depths in recent American films, in the sense that he's a coldhearted bastard who actually gets to follow through on his words and actions, and it results in a more interesting dogfight between Davian and Ethan that doesn't fall off the table of believability.
Mission: Impossible: III is the first HD DVD title that comes in a two-disc edition, one with the film and a couple supplements, and the second disc for the balance of the extras. And although I might feel bad sometimes for giving the film such a high technical score, if HD DVD can look like this all the time, then it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. The picture looks amazing, the blacks look fantastic, but of all the HD titles I've seen, there's some more color employed here than in other films. The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack sounds as good as the picture looks, with a lot of powerful sound elements. Everyone has been raving about the bridge sequence where Hunt is being shot at by machine guns and missiles, and the sounds are strong enough to rearrange internal organs. Even scenes where glass breaks (either by someone jumping or getting thrown out of it) have got bass activity behind them. There's a helicopter chase through a series of windmills that brings you deep into the action early on as well. This is easily Paramount's best release on HD DVD and this title, as well as Batman Begins, should easily convince those with a decent HDTV set to get their pre-orders in for a next generation player.
And hey, there's even some HD exclusive content as well! Sure, there's a commentary with Abrams and Cruise, but in the "enhanced" version that's exclusive to HD DVD, a camera is pointed on the two as they share their thoughts on the film and elaborate on stuff that occurred on set while the film plays on the majority of the screen. But this enhanced track is more along the lines of Warner's "In Movie Experience," which is set off when Abrams and Cruise are attempting to make a point early on in the film, they ask for the film to be paused, and it is, so it's stopped and the small window with Abrams and Cruise are the only two things on the screen as they discuss a plot point, then they return to the film after a couple of minutes. There's also a bit of a "white rabbit" feature where the viewers will see an IMF logo on screen. When they hit enter on their remote, a variety of things are shown, either deleted scenes, animatics or rehearsal footage from a fight scene. Clips of the other two films are interspersed every so often too, and even some outtake footage appears. All of this while they discuss the stunts on the film, their thoughts on the actors, and just about everything else you can think of. And because they pause the film so frequently, it gives them (and you) a chance to cover as much as possible, without being cut off by the limits of the runtime. It's really cool to see and along with the film's awesome technical features, this also helps show off the potential of the format.
Disc two holds the rest of the extras, some of which appear a little redundant after experiencing the enhanced commentary, but in more pleasing news, a good chunk of the extras were shot in high def, making things that much more visually pleasing. "The Making of the Mission" is just that, but it acts as more of a production diary than anything else, mixed with various interview footage, the actors discuss the film, while Cruise and Abrams talk about how they met and how the film came together. The locations of the film are shown along with some cast mugging for the camera, some various CG stages of filming, green screen stuff, you name it. It's not a bad look at the film for a half hour. Next is "Inside the IMF," which essentially is a series of the requisite cast interviews about what they thought of the story, each other, their characters, what have you. "Mission Action: Inside the Action Unit" looks at the stunts and Cruise's extensive participation in them, along with rehearsal stuff, the stunt crew get some camera time, and the cast discuss what it's like to work with such a gung-ho action movie star. "Visualizing the Mission" is a mix of more interview footage, along with some really cool previsualizations that outline the aforementioned stunts, along with how they're used in the planning and execution for a scene. "Mission: Metamorphosis" covers the story behind those cool little masks that have been used through all three movies and how the "mask machine" works. "Scoring the Mission" focuses on, guess what, the score of the film, and it's onto the publicity for the film, where there's some interview footage of Cruise interviewing Abrams (and vice versa) for Moviefone. Cruise goes to four different locations for the film's premiere (I'll give him something, after seeing him shill this film for almost 15 minutes, he sure knows how to promote something), and there's five deleted scenes (which the enhanced commentary already shows you) that are in anamorphic and in 5.1 sound and run a little over five minutes. The teaser and trailers are all in high definition, the TV spots are not, and after a series of stills, there's a tribute reel for a British film award that Cruise received in 2005.
Oh yeah, there's a few quick easter eggs on the second disc, with some scoring footage, which is notable only for the fact that Dermot Mulroney (The Family Stone) appears as one of the members of the string session for it, as he's played cello since he was a kid. Watching Cruise sound eerily like Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) is painless enough, but these eggs are numbered in such a way that I'm sure there's probably more to be found here, I just found the ones that were easy to get.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At the end of the day, this is still your standard run of the mill summer popcorn action film, which means the significant storylines are a little light, and an occasional one-liner is uttered. And at 125 minutes, it's probably a little bit on the long side, and feels like an extended episode of Alias. I mean, Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) is basically Marshall with the Queen's English accent. On the flip side though, you can make a game out of mapping the progress (or degradation) of the actors that inhabit the same relative roles in the three films. Crudup is in here, when Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, Titus) did the same job in the last film? And Hoffman is the villain here, while Dougray Scott (Desperate Housewives) was the bad guy in the last film. So I guess things balance out in the world.
Goofy Cruise behavior aside, Mission: Impossible: III is actually a little bit better than I was expecting it to be, and in terms of its place within the three movies of this genre, might actually be the best of the bunch, as the stunt sequences are still strong, and the emotion is the most visceral of the three films. Oh, and if you've got an HD-DVD player and a home theater setup, you will be drooling by the end of this, so plan accordingly.
Abrams, Cruise, and gang are found not guilty for their crimes, and the court hopes that the two reunite for future projects.
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Scales of Justice
• Enhanced Visual/Audio Commentary with Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams
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